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The Orinoco Adventure, Page 3 - The Great Mouth of the Orinoco
Waterton's Orinoco Adventure

• 1 - The Orinoco Adventure - A Visit to Angostura • 2 - The Orinoco Adventure - More About Angostura
• 3 - The Orinoco Adventure - The Great Mouth of the Orinoco • 4 - The Orinoco Adventure - The Local Wildlife
• See also • Waterton's Demerara  • Guyana Gallery  • Georgetown Gallery

Rio OrinocoVenezuela, 1808 - The Orinoco Adventure - a visit to Angostura (now Ciudad Bolivar)

Charles Waterton was still managing the family plantations in Demerara at this time.

On 2nd August 1808, Waterton was given a commission by Governor Ross to deliver despatches from Admiral Collingwood to the Spanish government at Angustura (spelling as per the book) in the Orinoco (in what is now Venuzuela).

His friend, Mr Charles Edmonstone, was included in the commission as Waterton was concerned about his health and thought that a change of air might benefit him. Waterton recounts his adventures on the journey in his book "Essays on Natural History" (2).

Waterton recalls that he also included an acquaintance who 'never let me rest one moment until I had got the governor to allow him to accompany us'. This pest was 'in years' and 'ill-requited' the favour that Waterton had done him. 'I only saw my error when it was too late.'

Point Barima, Great Mouth of the Rio OrinocoPoint Barima, Great Mouth of the Rio Orinoco, 1841 (3).
Click here for a modern map (2000) showing Point Barima, Sarcopan (Sacupana) and Barrancas - and more about the nearby Castillos de Guayana la Vieja.

The party sailed from Demerara under the Levina flag of truce. After they had rounded Point Barima they encountered a very strong current carrying large pieces of shattered and fallen trees. Their boat struggled to make progress against the stream, and they had to take out a hawser in a small boat and lash it to the branches of the trees that overhunq the river. So, by a laborious process of warpinq, they made their way slowly up to Sarcopan and then on to the Spanish fort at Barrancas. At Barrancas, the Spanish provided them with a longer, schooner-rigged boat and 'admirably adapted' to travelling on the river.

Rio Orinoco - one of its many parts! Rio Orinoco - one of its many parts! Unlike Charles Waterton, the modern traveller can visit the Orinoco with a tour company.

Waterton found the journey, 'a grand feast for the eyes and ears of an ornithologist'. As they moved on through the swamps amongst the many wooded islands, they 'saw water fowl innumerable', and later when they reached the higher ground they saw 'immense quantities of parrots and scarlet aras which passed over our heads'. The loud, harsh screams of the bird called the horned-screamer, were heard far and near; and I could frequently get a sight of this extraordinary bird as we passed along; but I never managed to bring one down with the gun, on account of the difficulty of approaching it. John Edmonstone, who is now in Edinburgh, will remember well this expedition."
After his encounters with birds and snakes (click here), Waterton's party eventually arrived at Angostura.

Ciudad Bolivar by Orlando LeivaAngostura (Ciudad Boliva. Venezuela. Casco historico de la ciudad. 1, photograph by Orlando Leiva, Google).

'Angostura' is Spanish for 'narrowing', the town of Angostura is located at the first narrowing of the River Orinoco.

On arrival at Angostura, Charles Waterton describes his stay with the Governor, Don Felipe de Ynciarte:"On arriving at Angustura, the capital of the Orinoco, we were received with great politeness by the governor. Nothing could surpass the hospitality of the principal inhabitants. They never seemed satisfied unless we were partaking of the dainties which their houses afforded. Indeed, we had feasting, dancing, and music in superabundance.

The governor, Don Felipe de Ynciarte, was tall and corpulent. On our first introduction, he told me that he expected the pleasure of our company to dinner every day during our stay in Angustura. We had certainly every reason to entertain very high notions of the plentiful supply of good things which the Orinoco afforded; for, at the first day's dinner, we counted no less than forty dishes of fish and flesh.

The governor was superbly attired in full uniform of gold and blue; the weight of which alone, in that hot climate, and at such a repast, was enough to have melted him down. He had not got half through his soup, before he began visibly to liquefy. I looked at him, and bethought me of the old saying, "How I sweat! said the mutton chop to the gridiron." He now became exceedingly uneasy; and I myself had cause for alarm; but our sensations arose from very different causes. He, no doubt, already felt that the tightness of his uniform, and the weight of the ornaments upon it, would never allow him to get through that day's dinner with any degree of comfort to himself. I, on the other hand (who would have been amply satisfied with one dish well done), was horrified at the appalling sight of so many meats before me. Good breeding whispered to me, and said, ""Try a little of most of them." Temperance replied, “Do at your peril: and, for your over-strained courtesy you shall have yellow fever before midnight."

At last, the governor said to me in Spanish, "Don Carlos, this is more than man can bear. No puedo sufrir tanto. Pray pull off your coat, and tell your companions to do the same; and I’ll show them the example." On saying this, he stripped to the waistcoat; and I and my friends, and every officer at table, did the same. The next day, at dinner time, we found his Excellency clad in a uniform of blue Salempore, slightly edged with gold lace.

Don Felipe de Ynciarte had been a great explorer of Spanish Guiana in his day. He told me that he, in person, dressed as a common sailor, had surveyed the whole of the sea coast from the Orinoco to the river Essequibo. He let me look at a superb map of his own drawing. It was beautifully finished and my lips certainly watered to have a copy taken of it. After my return to Demerara, I sent this courteous governor a fine telescope, which had just arrived from London. I corresponded with him until I sailed to Europe for my health. During his government, beef was so plentiful, that the heads and tongues of the slaughtered oxen were thrown to the vultures. Indeed, beef was only one penny a pound, and the finest fish could be had almost for nothing.

The Liberation of South America

Waterton's view: Canning's new republics, which have arisen out of the former Spanish Transatlantic empire, may have tended to enrich a few needy adventurers from Europe; but, to the natives in general, they have proved a mighty curse. [2]

George Canning was born in London on 11th April, 1770. In 1796 the Prime Minister William Pitt appointed Canning as Foreign Secretary. This was the first of a number of posts held under Pitt . After Pitt resigned in 1801, Canning joined the opposition to Henry Addington's government. Over the next few years Henry Addington suffered from Canning's parliamentary attacks. Canning was especially critical of Addington's refusal to accept Catholic Emancipation. He made a successful Foreign Secretary, especially in preventing South America from falling into French hands. Canning died on 8 August 1827.

Simon Bolivar Statue in El Callao, Venezuela Simón Bolívar, 'The Liberator'
Simón José Antonio de la Santísima Trinidad Bolívar y Palacios Ponte Blanco, commonly known as Simón Bolívar 'The Liberator' (Born Caracas, 24 July 1783 – Died Santa Marta, 17 December 1830) was a South American political leader. Together with José de San Martín, he played a key role in Latin America's successful struggle for independence from Spain.

Following the triumph over the Spanish Monarchy, Bolívar participated in the foundation of Gran Colombia, a nation formed from several former Spanish colonies. He was President of Gran Colombia from 1821 to 1830. Bolívar is credited with contributing decisively to the independence of the present-day countries of Venezuela, Colombia, Ecuador, Panama, Peru, and Bolivia and is revered as a national hero in them.(4)

1808 Venezuela - The Orinoco Adventure -The Great Mouth of the River Orinoco.
Background information to Waterton's Orinoco adventure. Charles Waterton was still managing the family plantations in Demerara at this time.

Point Barima, Rio OrinocoPoint Barima, Great Mouth of the Rio Orinoco, 1841, as shown in the report by > the Chevalier R.H. Schomburgk in Expedition to the Lower Parts of the Barima and Guiania Rivers, in British Guiana, 1841. (1)


Orinoco delta Map (2000) showing Point Barima, Sarcopan (Sacupana) and Barrancas - note the nearby forts of Castillos de Guayana. (2).


Castilios de GuayanaCastillos de Guayana la Vieja
These are fortifications built by the Spanish near Barrrancas to protect the river route into the interior of Spanish Guiana (now Venezuela). There are two forts - the Castle of San Francisco de Asis and the Castle of San Diego of Alcala.

The Castles of Guayana bear testimony to the days when the Orinoco was an important route into the heart of what was then a Spanish colony. They are located before the Delta of the Orinoco, on the south side of the river. They are in the forest reserve of Imataca Mountain range.

They are two solid and functional constructions of great architectural interest as they are prototypes of this type of fortification, designed by the Spanish for the protection and defence of strategic areas. Apart from their interest from a military point of view, they are also important reminders of Venuzuela's past as part of the Spanish Empire in South America. They serve as milestones in the formation of the Venezuelan nation. For that reason and because they have withstood the ravages of time and the destructive effects of the man, the climate and the selvática vegetation that surrounds them, they deserve to be known, to be protected and to be admired by all visitors - Venezuelans and foreigners alike.

They were constructed by the Spanish conquerors between the 17th and 18th centuries in order to control passage along the Orinoco river and to prevent the penetration of the interior of Guayana by pirates and buccaneers.

The Castle of San Francisco de Asis or Villapol, was the first be constructed, it was built between the years 1676 and 1682, during the mandate of governor Tiburcio de Aspe Zúñiga; on a mass of stone of good height and extension on the foot of the Padrastro hill, close by the river. There are five old cannons that were used in the defence of Guayana, one of which is the British Royal Navy cannon described on this page.

The Castle of San Diego of Alcala or Elías Field is more distant from the river. Construction began in 1734, under the mandate of Governor Juan de God Valdez and it was finished in 1747, during the time of Diego de Tabares. Its aim was to defend the fort of San Francisco and the access to Santo Tomé de Guayana (also known as Ciudad Guayana).

In 1961 both forts were declared "National Historical Patrimony" by president Rómulo Betancourt. From 1975 to 1987 they were restored 3)


Royal Naval CanonThe Royal Naval Cannon
On a tour of Venezuela in 2005, the Venezuelan guide pointed out a British cannon now doing service (of a touristic nature) in Castillos de Guayana la Vieja. This British artillery piece in the lower fort (San Francisco de Asis) is a Royal Naval cannon with the monogram of George III and was cast in 1798.

From about 1790 the draughts sent out to the gun founders from the Royal Arsenal were for guns of a new pattern devised by Captain Blomefield of the Royal Artillery (British Army), who had been appointed Inspector of Artillery in 1780. In 1790 copies of the new cypher were sent out with orders that it was not to project more than 1/5th of an inch.

The author of this page did not take any measurements and so it is difficult to judge the size of the piece, it could be either a 12 pounder or an 18 pounder, there is only 6" difference in length but the bore of the 12 pounder is 5.1" against 4.4". 'WG' is the manufacturer and other numbers found on the cannon are probably mould numbers. (4)

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1. Expedition to the Lower Parts of the Barima and Guiania Rivers, in British Guiana. By the Chevalier R.H. Schomburgk. (Communicated by the Colonial Office.). River Manari (a tributary of the Barima), 22nd June 1841.
2. International Travel Maps (ITM), Vancouver, Canada, 3rd edition, 2000, ISBN 0921463596.
3. Based upon information extracted from Estado Delta-Amacuro (http://www.a-venezuela.com/estados/deltaamacuro/turismo.shtml), accessed 19th Oct. 2005. No longer working on 8th March 2019.
Try this: https://venezuelatuya.com/guayana/castillos_guayana.htm, 8th March 2019.
4. My thanks for much of the information regarding the Royal Navy cannon to the Maritime History and Naval Heritage web site operated by Michael Phillips and Jane Buchmann Phillips. (Based upon information supplied October 2005. The link to the web site at www.cronab.demon.co.uk/marit.htm was not working when tested on 30 Nov 2014).

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